pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Be the Church

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Verse 9: “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

Paul opens his first letter to the church in Corinth by calling them saints – those “sanctified” and “holy”. As we begin our passage today, Paul extends “grace and peace” from God and from Jesus Christ. Paul gives thanks to God for the grace given the church through Jesus Christ. It is grace that empowers believers to live in a world that brings persecution and offers temptations. Grace also gives believers the ability to love others as they are – without judgment and without barriers. It was grace that led Jesus to pay the price for all sins as he went to the cross. It is grace that welcomes us as sinners into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul also names the way that the Corinthian church has been “enriched in every way”. This is also part of what allows them to bear such a strong witness in the world. Paul identifies the source of their strength and power: “you do not lack any spiritual gift”. They have been blessed by the Holy Spirit with a multitude of gifts and talents. In this way they are like all other churches. Collectively they have all the gifts and talents necessary to be the body of Christ in the world. The same is true of your church and of my church. As the church strives to live out its mission to make disciples, the Holy Spirit uses these gifts and talents to build up the kingdom of God here on earth as we await the revelation of Jesus’ return.

When we, the church, use our gifts and talents we are also strengthening one another. When we give of ourselves, we build up and encourage one another, playing our role in the effort to “keep strong to the end”. In our current season it may be more challenging to be the body of Christ. We may need to find innovative and creative ways to safely care for and love our neighbors. We may need to try new and socially distanced ways to be in fellowship with one another. As has always been the case, we will find Spirit led ways to be the church to one another and to the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God will see us through these current challenges because, above all, God is faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in this season ministry has been challenging. It feels like we are frequently shifting and adjusting. Thank you for the guidance and direction as we work to find ways to minister to others. Please continue to lead and guide us as we seek to be your love lived out. Amen.


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Worthy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 1-8

Verse 8: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”.

Paul’s letters to the churches and to individuals usually served two main purposes: to build up the community of faith and to teach good Christian living. Paul spent the last few years of his life as an apostle, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever he went. Paul’s missionary efforts in these years was not always easy, as evidenced in verse two: “with the help of God we dared to tell you the gospel”. On his visits, Paul spoke with authority. He was one “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel”. Because of this, Paul had helped many to follow Jesus and he founded many churches throughout the known world. He dearly loved Jesus Christ and those who were his brothers and sisters in Christ.

The depth of Paul’s love is revealed in verse eight: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Paul himself valued the relationship between believers. He often lifted up the community of faith in his many writings. Fellowship and mutual love were common themes for Paul. In his letters he often shares how he longs to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ – this too is evidence of his love for the family of God. Paul valued each individual because he believed they were a part of the body of Christ. For him, this was a connection stronger than blood and deeper than any other social or political connection. This connection was founded solely upon his love for Jesus Christ – the driving force in his life.

It was this driving force that led Paul to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all he met. Paul witnessed to about everyone he met. The story goes that he even shared his faith with the Roman soldiers who had him under arrest. Paul saw even these, those who many would consider enemies of God, as children of God worthy of the same love he gave freely to his brothers and sisters in Christ. May we too seek to model this same universal love as we strive to live out our faith day by day, person by person.

Prayer: Lord of all, help me to see others as Paul did – each as your beloved. Help me to see each as you see them. Then may I love them as you do. May it be so. Amen.


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Wholeness and Unity

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-3

Verse 2: “I plead with ___ and ___ to agree with each other in the Lord”.

Paul is imprisoned in Rome as he writes these words. The man who founded many churches and who was a key figure in bringing many people into a saving faith in Jesus Christ has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel. Paul is highly respected in the Christian communities spread throughout the known world. His words and writings carry weight. As he sits under house arrest in Rome, word of a dispute in the church in Philippi comes to his attention. Philippi is about 800 miles from Rome. Word would be carried across land, then sea, then land again. As he closes the letter to the Philippians, Paul takes time to address the dispute between Euodia and Syntyche, two prominent women in the church. In the opening verse above I left two blank lines because for most churches today we could fill in the lines. The spat may be past tense in some of our churches, but it is alive and well in too many others.

The fact that two women are in a sharp enough disagreement to merit mentioning means that it had significance for that church. Such disagreements often do. We do not know the source or cause of the disagreement, we just know it was doing what these things do – causing division and hostility. Paul knows these are bad for relationships and for churches so he asks a third party, believed to by Syzygus, the “loyal yokefellow”, to mediate. Again, in our churches it could be Bob or Anne or anyone skilled at bringing reconciliation. This is often a necessary step.

Division in the body of Christ does harm in so many ways. When we dig in and hunker down and refuse to enter into dialogue, we allow division to exist. When we in the church allow this, Satan is winning the day. Our community is weakened and our witness to the world is lessened. Whether one person is wrong or if both are wrong or if neither is wrong, all parties had a hand in creating division. Understanding and healing and forgiveness and grace and reconciliation must be found. Just as Paul pleads for these people to “agree with each other in the Lord”, may that be the prayer that we lift whenever needed in our churches and communities of faith. May the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of our hearts bring wholeness and unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Father God, where there is division, bring me words of healing and peace. Where and when there are disagreements in the body of Christ, give me words of understanding and love, words of grace and forgiveness. When hearts are hard, lead me to foster openness and care for the other. God, draw churches of all flavors into the unified church that will better resemble eternity. Walk with me as I seek to lead in that direction. Amen.


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The Body and Work

Reading: Romans 12: 3-8

Verses 4 and 5: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”.

In today’s reading Paul gives some guidance on how to be (and not to be) “living sacrifices”. He begins with a warning: “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. He is warning against arrogance and pride. When talking about gifts or talents, we can tend towards comparison and competition. For each of the gifts that Paul lists in verses six through eight there are ways to wrongly use each gift. For example, if a leader refuses to listen to others, then his or her pride soon leads to them leading a group of one. Or if God has blessed someone financially or otherwise and their gift is generosity, then giving can become a public display or it can come with strings attached. Both of these examples are getting away from the example set by Jesus.

Before reminding us that we are each uniquely gifted, Paul reminds us that the church is like the human body. He writes these words in verses four and five: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”. Although unique, as the church we still form one body of believers. He continues in verse five to write, “and each member belongs to all the others”. Imagine if we truly lived this out in our churches and in our own personal faiths! Paul is implying, rightly so, that we are all of equal worth or rank or value – whatever word you prefer. That means the newly confirmed or newly converted member has the same place as the 40-year member, as the pastor, as the lead elder… If the church as a whole lives into this kind of unity within its diversity, God’s power is at work.

In these types of churches each member feels like they matter and that they have something to offer to the whole. If all are valued and seen as bearers of God’s gifts, then all members seek to help others find, develop, and use their gifts. Doing so, the work of kingdom building becomes the work of the whole church. May we all seek to be a part of both sides of this equation: first, offering our gifts and talents as a living sacrifice and, second, helping others to do the same through words of encouragement, support, and love.

Prayer: God, as I consider this new body of Christ to which I belong, help me to lead well and to get to know and understand the gifts and talents of each sheep. Guide me with Holy Spirit discernment to how to best build up the body for your glory. Amen.


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Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verse 28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”.

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Jesus is about to send out the twelve disciples. He reminds them in our section for today that a servant and master should be more alike one another than different. Yes, one might be in charge, but both should treat the other with respect, honor, … There should also be a similarity in their character. In the context of this passage, Jesus is saying that the disciples will go forth and do what Jesus did – teach and heal. These practices remain the core habits of disciples.

Jesus sends them out with eyes wide open. He tells the disciples not to be afraid but to “proclaim from the roofs” the things he has taught and the things “whispered in your ear” by the Holy Spirit. Both of these will lead and guide them. They do not go alone. Nor do we. In verse 28 he reminds them of the higher purpose of the mission and of the ultimate outcome for the faithful. Here Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”. This life is only a mist in comparison to eternity. That is what matters most for the lost. In his words, Jesus assures and empowers, strengthens and builds up the disciples as they prepare to go out to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. Not all will hear the good news; some will reject and even heap abuse on the twelve. This too can be our experience. When this happens we too must remember our call and we must be assured that they cannot kill the soul. That belongs to the Lord. Forever. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in times of trial and testing, you stood firm. Teach me to do the same, trusting in the Holy Spirit and in your word. This day and every day, may I serve you well. Amen.


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Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Psalm 65: 1-4

Verse 3: “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions”.

The psalmist begins be speaking in the future tense. Praise awaits… vows will be fulfilled… all will come to God… It seems as if the psalmist recognizes either a future aspect of culminating their relationship with God or perhaps a time or season when the people are distant from God. Then, in the last verse of our passage for today, the psalmist reminds the people and us of the blessings of life with God. These blessings are spiritual – the hope, joy, peace… found from being in the presence of God.

In the middle of our passage, in verse three, we find a call to confession. We too are called to confess and repent, but sometimes that is a hard thing to do. Our pride and our self-sufficient attitude can get in the way. Our rationalizations and excuse making can also hinder the process. Because of these human limitations, our communion with God can be fake or superficial or shallow. We sort of want to be honest and transparent with God but our fleshy desires and human weakness keep us from making a full commitment to our relationship with God. In this partially disobedient state we do not experience all of God’s blessings.

At times we need help to come fully into God’s presence. For me, this happens most during Holy Communion. In this sacrament we come face to face with both the reality of the cross and with the overwhelming love and grace of God. In the invitation we are reminded of our need to confess and repent. Knowing that we are going to take in the elements that remind us of the body broken and the blood shed brings us near to God, to a place where confession and repentance flow. To kneel and to pour it all out before God, to feel the sins and weight fall away, to be made new again – this is one of the blessings we find in the presence of God!

Like the psalmist and the people he writes to, we too can be overwhelmed by our sins. Temptation sometimes gets the best of us. And like the psalmist, from those moments of confession and repentance we too know, “you forgave our transgressions”. This is God’s promise to us. When we come and seek to be made right by God, mercy and grace and forgiveness are always offered by the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for always hearing me when I come in humble confession, seeking to have a repentant heart, to walk a better walk with you. Your mercy pours out over me and your love makes me new. Thank you God! Amen.


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Compassion and Love

Reading: Luke 13: 14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”?

Jesus heals on the Sabbath, elevating this woman’s need over keeping the law. Compassion and love lead Jesus to action. This “work” on the Sabbath makes the synagogue leader “indignant”. One definition of this word is: “feeling or showing anger because of something unjust or unworthy” (Merriam-Webster). From our viewpoint, healing the woman is neither unjust or unworthy. The leader paraphrases one of the Ten Commandments, basically saying to come be healed on the other six days.

Jesus addresses the leader’s indignant heart. He begins by reminding all there that they care for their animals on the Sabbath, meeting their basic needs. He then extends the idea to someone much more worthy of care: the woman. Jesus says to all there: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”? If you care for your ox or donkey on the Sabbath, how much more should you care for a child of God? The religious leaders are shamed, as they should be. Jesus’ point is obvious. The crowd recognizes this, expressing delight in Jesus’ actions. In our hearts, we too cheer for Jesus.

The Sabbath was a day set aside to worship God and to renew the body. The woman was able to do both because Jesus reached out to her. Sometimes in our worship we too are led to deeper love and compassion. Perhaps the message or the scripture or a song or prayer time may trigger action in you. Maybe a “least of these”, like the woman, will be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit. If so, may you practice love and compassion today, helping another closer to God this day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your story of love and compassion today. Help me to see beyond the surface today and to engage those who need healing and wholeness. Amen.


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Fill Us, Holy Spirit

Reading: Acts 2: 1-4

Verses 3-4: “… tongues of fire… came and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”.

Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost Sunday in many of our churches. It is thought of as the birthday of the church. Two different groups were gathered in Jerusalem for two different reasons. The disciples of Jesus were gathered, waiting for the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit. Jews were also gathered, there to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. This annual festival fifty days after Passover was known as “Pentecost” in Greek. These two groups would be gathered under one roof as the loud noise, sounding like a “violent wind”, draws them together.

For the disciples who were gathered, they experienced something extraordinary. In verses 3-4 we read, “… tongues of fire… came and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. With a tangible and very visible sign, that which Jesus promised arrived. The gift that will teach and remind also gives the gift of speaking in many different languages. This remains one gift that the Spirit gives to those who follow Jesus.

I am currently at Annual Conference – the yearly gathering of United Methodist churches. My Annual Conference consists of the UM churches in South and North Dakota. Last night we had our “Celebration of Life in Ministry” service. In worship we celebrate the ministry of those no longer with us. We celebrate those who have graduated and those becoming provisional members and those being ordained as elders or deacons. It is a wonderful night of celebrating ministry. It begins with a welcome from a clergy from another denomination. Last night it was an Episcopal priest that our Bishop met while visiting the Standing Rock Reservation. This special guest represents our ties as the larger body of Christ, together under “one roof” as the Bishop put it in his message. Near the end of worship our Bishop always invites those whose hearts have been warmed, those perhaps feeling a call to ministry, to come forward.

As the Bishop prepared to give the benediction, the Episcopal priest asked to speak. He spoke of how our two denominations are close – Methodism was “birthed” by the Episcopals. And he spoke of how his heart was full and was warmed by this movement of the Holy Spirit among us and in our hearts. He spoke of how we are under one big roof – drawn together by God. Yes, God was once again at work in a very tangible and powerful way, speaking once again into our hearts. This day I look forward to having the Holy Spirit speak in my heart once again. May it be so for you as well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for filling my heart as well last night. Thank you so much for loving us so much that you work on being in relationship with each of us. Fill me up again today, Lord. Amen.


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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! Amen.